Marines killed in training were young, lives ahead

Posted March 21, 2013

— Lance Cpl. Mason Vanderwork, of Hickory, loved going to the beach and cruising in his Mustang convertible. He and his wife, Taylor, married the day after she graduated high school and hoped to start a family.

The 21-year-old loved being a Marine and had a tattoo emblazoned on his chest, she said, that read, "Sacrifice. Without fear there is no courage."

He was among the seven Camp Lejeune Marines killed in a desert training accident this week — most of them young men not yet weathered by life's hardships.

Just 19, Pfc. Josh Martino of Dubois, Pa., had already spent nearly half his young life dreaming of becoming one of "the few, the proud." He had joined in July and was hoping to marry his fiancée later this year before being deployed to Afghanistan, his mother said.

"Since he was probably 8 years old he wanted to be a Marine," Karen Perry said Wednesday after meeting with military officials to start planning her son's funeral. "That's all he wanted to do."

Lance Cpl. Josh Taylor, 21, also seemed to have been born for the Corps. The Marietta, Ohio, native had talked about being a Marine since he was about 5, said his grandfather, Larry Stephens. Josh, too, was planning for a wedding, scheduled for May.

Both young men were among seven members of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force killed late Monday when a mortar shell exploded in its firing tube during an exercise at Hawthorne Army Depot in Nevada. Eight men were injured.

Six remained hospitalized in Reno on Thursday, and their overall conditions were improving. Five were listed in fair condition, and one was in serious, compared with two who had been serious a day earlier.

A decade after the invasion of Iraq and nearly 12 years since the United States launched the global war on terror, Americans have become wearily accustomed to the sight of flag-draped coffins being solemnly offloaded at Dover Air Force Base. But news of such loss on American soil, far from any foreign battlefield, has the power to shock.

The bodies of the seven victims arrived Wednesday night at Dover after a procession and small ceremony on the ramp at the Reno airport, said Maj. April Conway, spokeswoman for the Nevada Army National Guard.

The seven Marines killed ranged in age from 19 to 26. Some had served overseas; others were training for their first deployment. They were in the final night of a training exercise spread out of several days in California and Nevada when the accident occurred.

While many had long dreamed of being Marines, some were already making plans for a life after the Corps.

Twenty-six-year-old Aaron Ripperda of Highland, Ill., joined the service after graduating from a St. Louis culinary school and finding the job market flat. His father tried to gently dissuade him.

"He told us he always felt like he had a calling to join the Marines," Kent Ripperda told The Associated Press from his home in Marine, Ill. "I guess maybe it was a prestige thing."

He enlisted in 2005, did a tour in Afghanistan in 2011 and was just a couple months from finishing his stint in the Marines. He was looking forward to returning home and attending Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville this fall, his father said.

Kent Ripperda said his son was eager to go back to college and "get on with his life."

Roger Muchnick, 23, who grew up in Westport, Conn., had already pulled one tour in Afghanistan and was thinking about returning to college after his enlistment was up, said his grandfather, Jerome Muchnick.

Muchnick played on the football and lacrosse teams at Staples High School and went on to play lacrosse at Eastern Connecticut State University, where he studied business. In a biography on the university's website, Muchnick said the one thing he would like to do before he died was "live," and that his most embarrassing moment was getting caught lip-synching in a school talent show.

"He was a fabulous kid. Just fabulous," his grandfather said. "He was at the top of his game when this happened. ... You can't imagine losing a very handsome, 23-year-old grandson who was vital and loving."

Lance Cpl. William Taylor Wild IV, 21, joined the Marines shortly after graduating in 2010 form Severna Park High School near Annapolis, Md. His mother, Elizabeth Wild, said he was in a weapons platoon that was scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan in November. He already had been deployed twice to Afghanistan and once to Kuwait.

Wild said her son always wanted to go into the military, like his father, who is a command chief in the Air Force Reserve at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

The military Wednesday night identified the other Marines who were killed as Lance Cpl. David P. Fenn II, 20, of Polk City, Fla., and Lance Cpl. Mason J. Vanderwork, 21, of Hickory, N.C.

Both joined the Marines in June 2010 and were deployed to Afghanistan in 2011, a spokesman for the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force said in a written statement.

The explosion Monday caused an immediate suspension of the use of 60 mm mortars by the Marine Corps, with an exemption for troops in Afghanistan, U.S. military and Marine officials said. Marine units on the warfront may continue to use the mortars with the review and approval of their commanders. U.S. military officials in Afghanistan said they have not stopped using the mortars there.

The suspension, which will be in effect until the accident investigation is complete, largely affects units that are training, although those Marines could use the larger and more powerful 81 mm mortar systems if needed.

At Camp Lejeune, an 170-square-mile base and home to about 50,000 uniformed troops, counselors at the Naval Hospital were gearing up to offer help as the ripples from Monday's tragedy began reaching family and friends, barracks mates and survivors, said Dr. Sawsan Ghurani, director of mental health programs at the hospital.

"It's so unexpected that it's more of a shock than if you'd been mentally prepared" for battlefield casualties, said Ghurani, a psychiatrist and Navy captain. "You hope people don't die in war, but it is a common occurrence and whereas, in training exercises, it's very rare."

The ages of the victims make it even worse, Ghurani said.

"For me, it's especially tragic when they are so young and still have so much left to give in life and to experience in life that it just seems unfair," she said. But, she added, "The nature of the military culture is to be selfless."


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  • discowhale Mar 21, 2013

    why be outraged? These young men, every one of them, volunteered knowing they could possibly go in harms way. Are you outraged when a bunch of iron workers get hurt and killed on a construction site? How about when a bus carrying a college sports team has a wreck?

    Why should we be 'outraged'? I expect the answer lies in people thinking that the military 'should be' as safe at home as most people are in their daily jobs. But it's just not so.

    As sad as it is to say, and all of us who are veterans know it well, training with live arms sometimes causes accidents. The same goes for running electrical equipment, steam plants, and vehicles in the military. Most of us have been around bases where training accidents have happened.

    It comes with the job.

    Without ever counting those killed in wars, the military has on average, 1 death, per day, per service, every day of every year. Sadly, many times it comes like this, in a bunch somewhere, like this.

  • Fireflies Rock Mar 21, 2013

    This is so heartbreaking. My sincerest condolences for all the parents, wives, fiancee's and friends of these young men.

  • jmrado47 Mar 21, 2013

    The act of joining the armed services entails more risk than a civilian job. That has always been the case.

  • Tommylee Mar 21, 2013

    No country could ever win a war the way we are fighting. We either need to bring our men home or start fighting to win. Stop the nice fighting and start leveling the hills.

  • annieseppy Mar 21, 2013

    While I am SO incredibly sad for the friends and family of these brave marines, I have to say just one thing:
    "Marines killed in training were young, lives ahead" is THE worst story title ever and really needs to be changed. Seriously.

  • busyb97 Mar 21, 2013

    Every parent faces that, you just don't live in fear of it because you presume that they are in a safer field. You can get killed going to the grocery store down the street, or slipping in the shower in your own home! I'm sure if someone had statistics, they are more LIKELY to die in some other manner as compared to the guys in the armed forces.

    It sounds like these guys were happy with their choice to join the armed forces- at least most of them. It's sad, yes. But they are heroes no matter. They chose to do something that most people would NOT do. They put their lives on the line for others every day.

  • Ms.Manda Mar 21, 2013

    welfarequeen- so they have psychology offices in museums??

  • buckwheatbro Mar 21, 2013

    "Yes, that is the reason. " sheep will always need to be guarded by dogs - just be glad there are those that choose to be a dog to guard you ship. Semper Fi!!! Fair winds and following seas my fallen comrades!!!

  • welfarequeen Mar 21, 2013

    "This is exactly the reason I would never ever let my children join the armed forces."
    Is that REALLY the reason? stymieindurham

    Yes, that is the reason. Tell you what, Both of my children have now graduated from college and both are professionals. One went in Fine Art and the other has a phD in psychology. I don't go to bed at night with the very real worry that I might wake up the next day and find out that they died from an accident like this or from warfare. Parents who allow their child to go into the armed forces must face the very real possibility that their child may very well come home either injured, or in a box. And while accidents happen everywhere, I sincerely doubt that a bomb is going off at any museums psychology offices.

  • Ripcord Mar 21, 2013

    "This is exactly the reason I would never ever let my children join the armed forces." - welfarequeen

    I doubt that's the actual reason. But you'll still let your children drive cars, won't you?